Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Web


John Wyndham Web (1979)
Here's one which went unpublished during Wyndham's life, emerging a decade after he went to live in the ground. It's hard to tell whether this was something he was working on just as Mictlantecuhtli came calling, or an older draft of something he couldn't be bothered to finish, and the internet isn't much help in this one instance.

The story is a thematic variation on Wyndham's characteristic ecological or environmental catastrophe, with a few related ideas thrown in for good measure. It begins with moves made towards the formation of a rational Utopian society on a remote Pacific island, an enterprise which ends in death and disaster due to the presence of an emergent species of social spider which has taken over the island. It's the same basic dynamic as Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, and probably a few others - not to mention a heapin' helping of Michael Crichton's career - which sort of suggests a reason as to why Wyndham might not have bothered getting the thing
published, I suppose. That said,  Web is hardly a straight retread, and feels very much like a novel in its own right. The opening chapters concerned with the drive to begin anew seem timely given the novel presumably having been written in the wake of the second world war with the rebuilding of England and Harold Wilson's white heat of technology speech, not to mention all those science-fiction authors forever banging on about futurist supermen. Wyndham uses his characters here to voice a certain distrust of the politically left, which might ordinarily bother me, although it's possibly nothing stronger than scepticism concerning the vocally progressive Labour party of the time, and certainly he seems particularly sceptical of the Utopian ideal which leads the main protagonists to the island of Tanakuatua. Given the settlers receiving a thorough kicking from the forces of nature - entailing some fairly engaging debate about evolution and natural selection - the moral would seem to be concerned mainly with human vanity - nothing terribly original, but nicely illustrated nevertheless.

All the same, Web feels like a long short story, or possibly an unfinished draft. The prose is wonderful, but the framework to which it is bolted feels rickety in places. Tanakuatua, as we learn, was initially abandoned following irradiation by nuclear tests conducted elsewhere in the Pacific, a point which is left unexplored - unless it's simply that I've been primed to expect more in that direction by all those Godzilla films. Yet it seems as though the spiders have developed organisational skills due to radioactive mutation - or at least this was how I read it - otherwise, why not just ants, termites, or wasps, or any other invertebrate which is already capable of what the spiders do in this book and which actually exists?; unless spiders were chosen principally as a tried and tested horror trope. Also, the duration of the chapter detailing the history of the island seemed disproportionally large in the context of the rest of the book, suggesting it was written for what should have ultimately been a lengthier text.

Still, I'm not complaining. It's not his best but is still a decent book, and as Wyndham catastrophes go, it's one fuck of a long way from cosy.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl


Ryan North & Erica Henderson The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015)
I sometimes forget that my comic habit, such as it is, is largely restricted to that which I recall having read as a kid, or which I missed first time around, or which I once had but got rid of during one of my infrequent purges; so in all honesty, my impression of the current state of the art is vague at best, garnered either from news items posted on facebook, or the occasional bewildering stumble around Android's Dungeon in search of something old and familiar. My local comic shop isn't really called Android's Dungeon, but I feel strongly that it should be because it would be preferable to Heroes & Fantasies, which is the actual name.

Modern comics, at least the mainstream stuff, seem to be mostly self-referential superheroes drawn by people who grew up reading either manga or things drawn by Rob Liefeld; and they appear to be aimed squarely at comic book obsessives far more than they were when I was buying the things, back in the old days when everything was better than it is now. I've read a few that were okay, if nothing amazing, and a few that were fucking horrible; and I browsed Before Watchmen in the store and just couldn't see the point at all, but then what do I know?

On the other hand, there's Squirrel Girl, formerly best known as star of all those twenty shit superheroes lists which could once be found simply by randomly lobbing a brick at the internet - you probably know the deal: Arm Fall Off Boy, Matter Eater Lad, all those other guys. As it happens, Squirrel Girl's debut - written and drawn by the talented but undeniably cranky Steve Ditko and handily included in this collection - is indeed a bit on the crap side, truth be told; or if not crap than there's something very difficult to love about it, a faintly unpleasant tone stemming from the ambiguity as to whether we're laughing at or with our patently ludicrous not-quite-a-heroine.

Girls and squirrels - dude, that's so gay etc. etc.

In context, the revived Squirrel Girl feels like both a revelation and a stroke of genius, territory clawed back from the grimacing ninjas with the Japanese swords, throwing stars and the one-liners which actually aren't that funny. It's a reminder that comics can still be for kids, seeing as we've apparently lost sight of that detail. She's still ridiculous of course - with her squirrel powers and a theme song patently nicked from Spiderman; but she's ridiculous by the same terms as the rest of us, because we're all ridiculous to one extent or another and it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Naturally, it's a funny book because it wouldn't work otherwise, but at least it's on our side in a way I'm not convinced that the Ditko version ever really was. The humour will be familiar from all of those Buffy episodes and more or less everything that presently comes out of my thirteen-year old stepson's mouth, but it's warm and well-intentioned; and of course, being Marvel, it's also kind of square - lame observations qualified as humour with a suffix of right, guys? and that sort of thing - but not in a bad way, and not everything has to be Johnny Ryan's Retard Hitler. Personally I take it as a very encouraging sign regarding the collective soul of the human race that a comic such as this can still get published.

Please, Marvel, don't let Grant Morrison anywhere near it.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Illuminatus! Trilogy


Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975)
I've avoided this one for most of my adult life without quite having formulated a coherent reason why, and in the end it was Andrew Hickey's testimony which changed my mind, inspiring me to the realisation that I had no good reason to not at least just try the thing.

You've almost certainly come across every idea in it before, in a watered-down form from a million wankers who think they're being amusing by repeating things other people have said, he suggested, having anticipated most of my reservations, but if you can get past that, it's a good book. Most of its innovations have been absorbed into the countercultural mainstream, so it won't blow your mind or anything, but if you can get past that, you might well enjoy it.

At the risk of sounding affected, I was already bored thoroughly shitless by the supposed twenty-three phenomenon by about 1982, the year of Psychic TV's impressively disappointing debut album. I too had read William Burroughs, and had assumed everybody nicked it from him. There was a feature about Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! books in Vague, which I never bothered reading - it being too much trouble with colour images printed over faint text - so I never made the link. In the late eighties I provided artwork for a relatively popular fanzine called Hoax!, which seemed to be another variation on Re/Search with a load of fairly predictable Porridgey obsessions thrown in, but I liked the guy who put the thing together. Well, I liked him up to a point, but I didn't share his fixation with conspiracy theories, and I got tired of drawing stuff I wouldn't otherwise have drawn and drawing it for free - notably a cover for the second issue of Hoax! which I now recognise as having been an exercise in ticking off boxes on the Illuminatus! check list. In fact, having now read the trilogy, I realise that Hoax! was pretty much a straight exercise in recycling Wilson's material wholesale because plagiarism is the new originality blah blah blah...

By the time Grant Morrison came out with The Unreadables - recycling his own juvenilia as Robert Anton Wilson recycled via Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius with the plates switched, I was about ready to punch the next giggling imbecile to tug at my sleeve and point out that something or other had just cost him - oooh fancy - twenty-three pence chortle chortle...

As Andrew suggested, I have indeed encountered much of this material before, often without realising it; and of course it would be churlish to refuse admission to members of the Rolling Stones on the grounds of Primal Scream being a big pile of wank, so let's do this.

Firstly, as you might gather from the title, Illuminatus! is concerned with conspiracy theory in so much as that conspiracy theory forms the fabric of the narrative, serving as the language by which the book describes whatever the hell it's trying to describe. By conspiracy theory I mean the idea that secretive organisations or forces might be controlling human society from behind the scenes. I've never really given much credence to this sort of thing, mainly because I don't believe any of those supposedly in charge of human society possess either the resources or the intelligence necessary to maintain a contrary façade or to orchestrate anything resembling a tangled web of subterfuge. In other words, there's probably a story behind the Kennedy assassination, but I seriously doubt it's even half so interesting as everybody seems to think. That said, I believe that human society - and particularly where large governmental systems have formed - tends to behave like a living organism, subject to the will of its own internal manias without much in the way of conscious influence on the part of those involved, and that this often very much has the appearance of the kind of society we would inhabit were any of the conspiracies true. So conspiracy theory can serve as a useful metaphor for the discussion of human activity on an historical scale, which is partially what Wilson has done.

It's not just Wilson though. Himself and Robert Shea were both working for Playboy when they came up with this thing - apparently inspired by cranky letters sent in to the magazine - each writing sections to play off the other as a sort of narrative duel utilising the premise of all conspiracy theories being equally valid. The story roughly follows a private detective named Saul Goodman - doubtless inspiration for Bob Odenkirk's character in Breaking Bad - investigating the disappearance of a magazine editor, a person presumed silenced by the conspiracy, whatever it may be. The narrative serves as a framework upon which are hung all manner of conflicting theories and versions of human history, at least a few of which involve Atlantis, the Bavarian Illuminati, Hassan-i Sabbah, various Lovecraftian entities, Adolf Hitler, John Dillinger, and everything else ever.

It's mostly bewildering, not least with the narrative switching from first to third person every so often, and with different passages blending into one another with no break to differentiate scene or subject. There are strong elements of satire alternating with parodies of other writers - notably Ayn Rand - then Joycean streams of consciousness, and even the main characters realising they're in a book. Whilst the prose is such as to make for generally pleasurable, even thought-provoking reading, you may as well give up on  expectations of finding a coherent story in here. It seems to have one - something about a golden submarine, a rock festival, and a monolithic single-celled entity named Leviathan - but spends most of the page count having a fight with itself. Wilson's writing is apparently influenced by William Burroughs, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound, and to me Illuminatus! reads a little like a hybrid of Burroughs and Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius books in its tendency to switch between the vaguely hard-boiled and ponderous or even inscrutable philosophical discussion; and there are eight hundred fucking pages of it.

Probably for the sake of argument, Illuminatus! adopts the value system which I later found so aggravating about Hoax!, namely that no single view holds greater validity than any other, so nothing is necessarily more true or even more interesting than anything else, meaning we are obliged to accommodate a certain quota of complete bullshit - at least as I see it. Shea and Wilson therefore jam conflicting fantasies of human history up against each other so as to create confusion, and the point of this is that we might learn to be more picky about which ideas we let into our heads, or at least accept that those already incumbent might have gained access under a false pretext. The confusion seems to be a variation on Burroughs' cut-up technique, destroying the familiar patterns in order to discern what others are to be found.

Some of it is fascinating, and some of it is just annoying or boring - which probably isn't deliberate but may be inevitable given that the authors probably didn't envision Illuminatus! condensed to two-hours of screen time with a grimacing Sean Connery in hot pursuit of a mysteriously robed foe - at least not literally, the escapades of agent 00005 notwithstanding. The subject of the trilogy is more or less the nature of reality and how we experience it, so the book isn't above invoking the eternally yawnsome Timothy Leary alongside a load of guff equivalent to how quantum physicists and tribal shaman are the same thing, which they aren't, but I suppose it's forgiveable. Philip K. Dick did kind of the same thing with a more reader-friendly voice, and without quite such a page count.

More disappointing still is that every single reference to pre-Colombian Mexican culture - more or less inevitable in a book involving conspiracy theories and pyramids - is drivel of the kind suggesting that research in that specific area didn't even stretch to a  library book. For starters, there's no such thing as a Great Pyramid of the Maya, the references to Tlaloc actually refer to Chalchihuitlicue, and the famed Feathered Serpent was neither feathered nor in any sense serpentine and thus has no place in a list alongside either the mythic serpent which devours its own tail or old Snakey from the Garden of Eden; and I know it shouldn't really matter in a novel which spends at least some time hanging around in Atlantis, and the whole point is to illustrate approximate truths as worth more than absolutes; but if you're going to smuggle an indeterminate quota of complete bollocks in with the good stuff, you really need to make sure the good stuff is of a certain standard.

Anyway, against all odds, Illuminatus! achieves that for which it was written, and manages to be more or less entertaining throughout, and certainly philosophically provocative - which is more than can be said of almost everyone following in its footsteps, most of whom really needn't have bothered, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty; but eight-hundred pages! I still don't quite get why it needed to be so long, but whatever. It didn't blow my mind, although I still sort of wish I'd read this prior to exposure to at least some of the drivel it inspired, directly or otherwise.

I think that's a recommendation.

Let's just say that it is.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Adventures on Other Planets


Donald A. Wollheim (editor) Adventures on Other Planets (1955)
The cover alone was difficult to resist, even without the promise of short stories by three of my all-time favourite science-fiction authors, and Robert Moore Williams whose King of the Fourth Planet I recently enjoyed above and beyond expectation; although that said, it's a slim volume so there's probably not much to add beyond that I enjoyed it.

I read Simak's Ogre in a collection back in March, and although I still find it faintly bewildering, it's nevertheless enjoyable and full of typically nutty ideas, and in this context serves to illustrate the sheer poetry of Simak's prose; which isn't to say that it's necessarily sandwiched between clunkers so much as that the collection allows one to appreciate how Simak's writing might almost be deemed a genre in its own right.

Murray Leinster's Assignment on Pasik is a little underwhelming I suppose, but Robert Moore Williams' contribution - presumably the short which was expanded as the aforementioned King of the Fourth Planet - more than compensates as a vaguely philosophical take on van Vogt; and van Vogt's own heavily sculpted The Rull gives sufficient cause to confirm that Damon Knight was talking out of his arse; and Roger Dee's The Obligation is also decent.

Science-fiction as a genre has an unfortunate reputation of tending to peddle the same old crap over and over, particularly work of this vintage, and this collection is as good a refutation of the argument as any. Sure, there are spaceships and aliens and intrepid Earth people setting foot on other planets, but once we're past those basics, there's some truly screwy, unpredictable shit going on in this one.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

This Book is Fucking Stupid


Christopher Nosnibor This Book is Fucking Stupid (2013)
One problem with post-modernism is, in my view, that it's just too easy. Any fucking idiot can implement some ham-fisted attempt to disguise the fact of his masterpiece being a pile of shit by cleverly drawing attention to it being a pile of shit, and I'm not fooled. I've done it myself. When, after two years of a fine art degree specialising in the moving image, I experienced terminal exhaustion with my admittedly juvenile films and videos failing to garner the tutorial praise I thought they deserved, I switched to churning out a series of videos about the medium of video because I thought that was what my tutors wanted, or at least expected, and that seemed to be what they responded to. It was a piece of piss. I was spewing out that self-aware shit like a spigot. One of them was called Made in One Day and its subject was the fact of it having taken me only one day to make the piece from start to finish; and my 2.2 average grade accordingly went up to a 2.1 for about six months, at least until it became obvious that I was just working the system.

Post-modernism, Nosnibor suggests somewhere or other in this novel, or anti-novel as he calls it, seems mostly concerned with the death of certain media; and so this one is concerned with the death of the modern novel. This places me in an unfortunate position because I'm not really sure what that is, although hopefully it's not Fifty Shades of Shite. I have a hunch the modern novel may have been the stuff Marian used to read, usually either because she'd found it cheap in a charity shop or had read an article about it in Time Out - worthily yawnsome shite such as Life of Pi or Alexander McCall-Smith, the sort of thing which has generally made me feel slightly proud of my criteria being is there a fucking big spaceship on the front cover, or at least maybe an alien? I'm not entirely sure, but if Marian was into it, then it probably needs to die, so fair enough. I never quite worked out why she read what she read, or why she liked anything she liked, but I always had the impression that personal taste wasn't a factor, because she wasn't really interested in anything, not exactly.

Curiously enough, our relationship had certain parallels with that of Ben and Ruth in this anti-novel, and while this may not in itself be significant, it's significant to me as the reader, which is probably the point, or one of them. Nosnibor is clearly a massive fan of William Burroughs, and specifically the cut-up technique he employed to such dynamic effect, although Nosnibor is possibly unique in being a massive fan of William Burroughs doing something other than just going through the same motions. The principal of the cut-up technique is on one level the invocation of a degree of realism not found in the more traditionally structured narrative. The cut-up does to text - and by text we mean information - what, for example, Boccioni did for representational art when he painted The Street Enters the House, an image of his mother - so it is presumed - intersected by the details of her environment, street, balcony, buildings, noise, and even a passing horse; because if this sort of montage does not necessarily represent its subject, it is  nevertheless closer to our non-linear experience of the same. Yes it is.

Along the same lines regarding dialogue:

People don't speak in neatly formed and perfectly punctuated sentences, and don't wait for their interlocutor to finish speaking before they begin: words tumble from the mouth of everyone, they double back and repeat themselves, they contradict themselves, they stumble and stutter, they utter inanities, non-sentence, non-sequiturs, cutting one another up, speaking over one another and finishing one another's sentences, and not always correctly.

This applies to human experience as much as it does to what we say in that our descriptions of the same tend to follow particular types of linear narrative which don't always genuinely reproduce that which is described. This Book is Fucking Stupid therefore strives for something closer to experience by shattering its own narrative and blending it with other material, often written directly from the author's point of view. So we have the two friends described on the back cover as they wrestle with mid-life crises cut in with Nosnibor explaining what he's trying to do, reviews of the novel, or possibly reviews of other novels. It appears disjointed if you're expecting progress from one place to another in the traditional order, but nevertheless adds up to a surprisingly coherent whole.

There are problems, or at least I had a few problems, but they may be deliberate. Certainly the endless typos, fuck-ups and misspellings seem too incongruous to have been left in by accident, and almost seem to work as a way of involving the reader in the editing process, drawing us in to the narrative, making us accomplices - which is, by the way, almost certainly the wankiest sentence I've ever written. Additionally, the characters aren't particularly sympathetic and possibly because why should they be? Nosnibor slips in lines from Killing Joke, Whitehouse, Foetus and others, just like I've been prone to do back when I imagined a mention of my fave band would get the reader on my side, lending the scene I'd just written with my bright green crayon all the majesty of the closing bars of Killing Joke's Rubicon. I already wrote about how much I hate that sort of thing back in May, so I'll avoid repeating myself beyond stating that references to Editors, Interpol, Foo Fighters and others get on my tits at least as much as anyone else half my age going on about how I should check these guys out because they sound like Joy Division or Bauhaus, when the former were never as good as their legend would have it and the latter were shite even at the best of times - more or less just some cartoon vampire saying behold the spider in a spooky voice through an echo box over and over; but, I've a feeling that's exactly the point.

Fucking Stupid invokes the boredom of a meaningless existence founded on half-assed hopes and cultural detritus circling round and round and round, connecting with its subject like nothing before - or not very much before - leaving the modern novel with nothing else left to do; or something like that. I suppose I still prefer Bukowski and his like for this sort of thing, but Nosnibor kind of goes one further by making his characters such unglamorous wankers that he kills all potential for romance stone dead. I'm assuming that was his intention.

The funny thing is that I read this immediately after a couple of nights spent watching James Corden and Matthew Baynton's The Wrong Mans on Hulu - a generally amusing but faintly irritating comedy more or less epitomising the BBC's rebranding of artistic spontaneity and freewheeling chuckles as a generic corporate resource - and so I found myself reading Ben and Stuart as characters played by James Corden and Matthew Baynton in the show, because they kind of are, except rather than being funny, it's just depressing, and there's thankfully no-one to pull a comic long-suffering face every ninety seconds.

This Book really should be Fucking Stupid, or at least just plain awful, and yet somehow it succeeds, because it is; and therefore isn't, if you see what I mean. I'm impressed.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Excession


Iain M. Banks Excession (1996)
I've had occasion to give up on Iain Banks in the past, notably with The Algebraist which just seemed too shit to carry on with at the two-hundred page mark - something which should, by rights, be impossible with the work of someone who writes so well. I didn't give up on this one, instead making it right through to the last page, but - Jesus - there were times when it was a struggle to remember why I was bothering.

I suppose for all its faults, Excession does plenty of the sort of thing which Iain Banks did well with the powerful prose, reasonable depth of character, mind-blowing weirdness, and casual wit - the kind of stuff Douglas Adams might have achieved had he written a book which didn't spend the entirety of its page count winking and digging you in the ribs whilst asking whether you get it; on which count I particularly enjoyed the presence of a warship named the Frank Exchange of Views. Even reading with no fucking clue as to what's supposed to be happening, generally this one can be read with the assurance that the less interesting passages will usually give way to something a bit more engaging - if not necessarily comprehensible - within the next ten minutes or so.

I get the impression there may have been some mythological allusion in characters who change sex, become heavy with child, and then change sex again, all in the presence of a talking bird; but I may just be imagining that. Elsewhere in the story there's some kind of ethical debate possibly amounting to whether or not we're truly liberal if we tolerate the presence of Fascism in our society, or the other way around; in any case I'm not sure any conclusion was reached. So we have an agent of some description doing something or other in relation to a reality-warping intrusion from another universe, none of which seems to bear any strong resemblance to the blurb on the back cover, unless I sleep-read a couple of chapters without realising. There are a million characters, or so it seems, and it's difficult to be absolutely clear on what any of them are up to at any given time or what their motives could be. One particularly bewildering sequence in the life of Genar-Hoefen, for example, is muddled by flashback sequences alternating with contemporary narrative, and nothing much to indicate that these are separate episodes in the life of a single individual. I read about a hundred pages assuming I'd missed some crucial distinction back at the start, wondering if the two of them were supposed to be related.

So yeah - beautifully written and all that, but it was kind of a big pile of bollocks really, despite a few nice images. So that's another five days during which I could have been reading something else.

Great.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass


Kari Sutherland & Linda Woolverton
Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

I'm going to work with the assumption that this is a novel about a woman named Disney Alice, that being how her name appears on the cover and title page. I refuse to acknowledge Disney as referring to an author or authors because it would be undignified, given how the name of Lewis Carroll appears only once as small print, a creator credit, as though he were just one of the team, because Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass definitely wasn't written by Carroll. Its authorial heritage in full is given as adapted by Kari Sutherland, based on the screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on characters created by Lewis Carroll, produced by Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd, Tim Burton, and directed by James Bobin. The corporate efficiency of the list presents a stark contrast to the appearance of the book, a lavishly bound hardback with a colour plate on the cover and wonky pages of hand-knitted paper cut to uneven sizes. It's a real quality product, and I'm willing to bet that each copy was individually hand-crafted by authentic crofters living on the Arran Islands - which is over there in Englishland, which you probably didn't know; and it's been brought to us by the Disney Press - not Disney Books or Disney Publishing, but the Disney Press. I expect their head office is the stone hut next to the one with the artisan crofting craftsmen who didst forge the tome by the very sweat of their honest brows.

To get to the point, this isn't Through the Looking Glass, Carroll's sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as is probably obvious. Through the Looking Glass opens with Alice, who I would guess to be about eight, possibly younger, playing with her kittens in front of the fireplace in view of a large mirror through which she will soon travel. By contrast, here we meet Disney Alice as an adult, the feisty captain of a sailing ship returning to port from a series of adventures, and despite having been the presumably successful captain of her own ship for three years, returning home she is preoccupied with thoughts of her father and whether he will at last give her the blessing of his approval, because he's one of those bad dads who never said anything nice about us when we were young, which is why we now require analysts.

Where Through the Looking Glass is a beautifully-crafted nonsense tale based on the game of chess, this thing simply employs some of the same characters, additionally drafting in half the cast of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to tell an entirely different story; and familiar persons such as the Mad Hatter and Cheshire cat are given full names, families, motivation, resumes, and history. In this story, the Mad Hatter becomes a boring old square, thus significantly reducing his appeal. Something has turned him into a man with opinions about income tax and who no longer dreams crazy, magical dreams full of magic and wonderment. Alice therefore travels back in time to change the past so as to restore the Mad Hatter to his former magical state of magic, wonderment and crazy imagination. When I first read that Alice travels back in time to change the past, I assumed the reviewer was taking the piss, but no - that really is what happens, because they've invented a completely new kind of story.

I'm being sarcastic.

Anyway, we learn how the Mad Hatter's father once made some dismissive remark criticising the quality of a hat the boy had made at school and brought home hoping to impress his dear old dad. 'That's fucking shit,' the busy, working man observed whilst nevertheless holding down a job so as to put food in the mouths of his family and maintain the roof over their heads, which traumatised the junior Mad Hatter. To be fair, the hat he made at school sounds rubbish to me as well, but there's a lot to be blamed on shitty parenting in this book. The Red Queen for example is a bit of a cunt, but this is due to a bollocking from her parents, a bollocking resulting from her once having been charged with the spillage of some crumbs and a pie crust, which was actually her sister's doing. Apparently that's quite similar to how Hitler got started.

I haven't seen the movie, but I'm guessing this book more or less faithfully recreates both the story and the sense of constant motion, people falling out of the sky and catching a stray yardarm just in time, just like in a game, all in relentlessly screaming 3D for a couple of hours. The proto-Dadaist nonsense of Carroll's creation is implied with the usual blend of dollar store steampunk bollocks and low-calorie corporate surrealism with shitloads of cogs all over the shop, the sort of thing you will immediately recognise from whenever you last saw a commercial for anything remotely related to Christmas, this sort of deal:

He picked up a floral teapot—one of many on the table—and poured some tea into Time's cup.

'If you're really Time itself, or himself, or whatever you are, perhaps you can answer me this,' Hatter blathered on as he served their guest. 'I've always wondered when soon is.' He set down the teapot only to snatch up a plate of scones and shove it into Time's face. 'Is it before in a few minutes or after a little while?'

See, that's not actually the brain-wrecking psychedelic conundrum it seems to believe itself to be so much as just a fucking stupid question. Millions of years ago when I was at school, someone brought in their copy of Blondie's Parallel Lines album. A kid we knew as Trev - although that wasn't actually his name - got hold of it and was reading the back cover.

'Look at this,' he chortled, eyes wide, mind about ready to blow. He held up the record sleeve for us to see and pointed to the title of a song - I Know But I Don't Know, because for poor Trev that was the full Syd Barrett meeting André Breton at the Château de Lacoste; and most of Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass stays at more or less the same safe level of crossword puzzle surrealism. There will be no minds blown today, is the promise, just good value entertainment.

Elsewhere in the chamber, the Tweedles were also hugging.

'Let's never fight again,' Tweedledum said.

'Were we fighting before?' Tweedledee asked. He stared at his brother in puzzlement.

'No, so why start now?' Tweedledum said.

Gazing across the room, Alice watched her friends reunite with their families. Everyone seemed so happy, all their former fights—big and small—swept away. With a pang, she thought of her mother, wishing she were there to hold her close. The world had nearly ended, and Alice and her mother had not parted on good terms.

The formerly evil Red Queen is revealed as simply being in a lot of pain over the crumbs and a pie crust incident. She's really quite nice once you get to know her. Everyone makes friends, and we all learn a lesson about the importance of family. Alice's family have attempted to have her committed at one point, but it was just a misunderstanding or summink, because fambly. Alice has spent much of the book bemoaning the stifling influence of family, sexism, the glass ceiling, forces which would keep her from having adventures or spontaneous displays of imagination because she's just a girl or because she should maybe grow the fuck up, but nothing is as important as fambly. So the book or the film or whatever the fuck it is spends a couple of hours blasting us with messages about the madcap importance of breaking free, of wondrous imagination and magic and daring to dream and being a little bit crazy even if it means people think you're a bit weird; then it does an about face and tells us family is more important than anything, even if they've had you committed to a loony bin, even if they've dedicated their lives to shitting on your dreams. It's good to dream and to experience wonderment and to be like totally zany and shit, but only if you have your feet on the ground, if you show some responsibility, only if you honour your family; but in your own time - no pressure or anything.

Personally I don't believe in conspiracy theories, including the one about a corporate cabal of neofeudalist robber barons for whom capitalist society is one big chess game arranged so as to keep us docile and economically productive from behind the scenes, and that's because I don't believe those on the upper balconies have the intelligence or resources to organise such a thing or to keep it running. On the other hand, I do tend to believe that something which very much has the appearance of the same is in charge, roughly speaking, even if its organising principle is an unconscious process rather than a group of individuals. Corporations seem as much subject to Darwinian laws as any of us, so it may be helpful to regard them as organisms inhabiting a financial and political realm, their success determined by what they can get away with, how freely they are able to act and to establish themselves as intrinsic to the society they inhabit. So in other words, this probably wasn't even a conscious act, but there is a limit to the ways in which the machine expresses itself. There is a limit to what it is able to say.

The aspect of Disney Alice Through the Looking Glass which I dislike the most is the arrogance of the idea that an entertainment committee can improve on Lewis Carroll's original. It represents not an empowering fountain of imagination, but an attempt to colonise the same. It's a hostile commodification of superior art to which the company itself can only aspire, something it could never create because there is a limit to what it is able to say. It is designed to keep you dumb, insecure, and reliant upon its own product. It triggers all the familiar entertainment synapses - so thanks a fucking bunch for that, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Stephen Moffat, Spielberg, Tim Burton, and all you other peddlers of twee content-free wonderment. It's a proven seller, and a light sprinkling of generic unwanted-child angst gives us that warm feeling of value for money, just like the book packaged so as to pretend it wasn't made by robots, or if it was, at least they're zany steampunk robots.

So no, I didn't enjoy it very much.